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As of January 1, 2019, we are unaware of any further activity on the part of the Harris Neck Land Trust.  Their development proposal to Fish and Wildlife was rejected, and there is no pending litigation or legislation that we know of.  We will continue to monitor the situation and will report to our members and contacts if anything new develops.

Harris Neck Land Dispute

Threatened wood storks nesting at Harris Neck NWR

Over the past few decades, former land owners at Harris Neck and their descendants have been attempting to have the land that currently makes up the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge returned to them.

The issue of the legality of the condemnation process by which the land was taken has been settled in federal court and no further legal action is anticipated. The issue that the Harris Neck Land Trust is now raising is the fairness with which the landowners were paid. They are demanding that the land be returned and divided up among the previous owners or their descendants. They claim that this can be done without sacrificing the refuge's function in preserving the wildlife and wildlife habitat that now exists there.

The Friends group has decided not to comment on the racial and economic issues surrounding the initial taking of the land in 1942 by the US Army for use as a training base for pilots. Our position is that the legality of the process has been upheld in court, that the refuge is now a critical national treasure whose role would be destroyed by dividing it up into home sites with additional commercial development, and that the refuge should remain intact. In addition, many national parks and wildlife refuges have obtained land through a very similar condemnation procedure. Passage of legislation returning the land at Harris Neck NWR would have the potential to open a flood of claims from former land owners around the country demanding that their land also be returned.

Friends members Jim McMahon and Mark Yeager have done extensive research on the Harris Neck land issue, reviewing many historical sources, and have complied a number of documents that address the issues and some of the misinformation that has been put before the public.  Please check out the documents below:

1. National Aviation Policy at Harris Neck

2. Map of Jacksonville-Richmond Airway

3. Harris Neck Timeline

4. Bibliography

5. Land Acquisition Details

     Further information is available at the bottom of this column.

On February 5th, 2014, Savannah State University and the Harris Neck Land Trust co-sponsored a symposium on campus to highlight the Harris Neck land dispute story and to attempt to solicit support for the cause.  An article in the Savannah Morning news published on February 6th reported on the event.

The article and public statements by Land Trust representatives claim that F&WS "at the highest level in DC" is negotiating a deal to lease 800 acres of Harris Neck NWR to the Land Trust upon which they will build a museum, homes, and gardens.  They also have stated that the deal will be consummated this year and that construction would start in 2015.

 I would like to reassure Friends members and supporters that I have spoken to a National Wildlife Refuge Association representative and with US F&WS representatives and have been reassured that no such negotiations are ongoing.

In meetings in 2016 the Land Trust was advised that F&WS would review any proposal the land Trust submitted for the private use of refuge lands using the same criteria used for any other group with similar proposals.  Subsequently, the F&WS did receive a special use proposal from the Trust, which, after review locally and regionally, was rejected.  The Trust has made no further requests.

On December 15th, 2011, the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs held a hearing in Washington DC at the behest of Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) to once again review the claims of the original owners of part of the land that now makes up Harris Neck NWR.

The National Wildlife Refuge Association asked the Friends to send a witness to the hearing to present a private citizen volunteer's position. Friends group Board of Directors member and Secretary Dot Bambach was able to travel to DC on short notice to testify at the hearing.

For years Dot has been very involved as a volunteer with the wood stork (Mycteria americana) monitoring project at Harris Neck NWR and did an excellent job explaining the vital role that the refuge plays in the recovery of this endangered species. To see a video of the hearing and her testimony, click HERE.

The Friends group has contacted other concerned groups and prepared a briefing document to present to legislators and staff presenting the facts of this issue as documented.  US Representative Kingston has received this document along with a summary letter backed by the Friends group, the Blue Goose Alliance. the Georgia Ornithological Society,  the Ogeechee Audubon Society, and the Coastal Georgia Audubon Society.

1. Briefing Document
2. Cover letter to Rep. Kingston

The Harris Neck land Trust was apparently expecting action from congress following the December 2011 hearing, but no action has been forthcoming.  The second article indicates that Rep. Kingston feels he has done what he can do and it is now up to congress.  No legislation regarding the issue has been introduced.

Brunswick News September 6, 2012

Darien News August 9, 2012

Previous links:

1. Friends group letter to members

2. Harris Neck NWR home page
3. Harris Neck Land Trust home page
4. Government Accounting Office report
5. F&WS Summary of the issues
6. F&WS Fact Sheet
7. Savannah Morning News Letter to the Editor
8. Refuge Watch blog entry
9. Georgia HR 610
10. Letter from Friends group member Pat Metz to Rep. Roger Lane         (R-Darien)
11. Friends Group BOD member Dot Bambach's testimony to a congressional subcommittee on December 15, 2011

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